Salford Holds Referendum On Having An Elected Mayor
Voters in Salford will go to the polls today in a referendum to decide if they want a directly elected mayor.
The poll is being held after a petition with 9,062 signatures was collected requesting the city council hold a vote on the question.
Any local authority is legally obliged to hold a referendum if more than 5% of the electorate sign a petition under the Local Government Act of 2000.
But England's 11 largest cities will also hold referenda on the same subject in May under new plans in the coalition Government's Localism Bill.
The Government is keen to see US-style directly elected mayors in big cities to engage voters more closely in local politics and have a say in how local taxpayers' cash is being spent.
The cost of holding Salford's referendum is estimated to be around £200,000, but turnout, according to local political sources, may be as low as 10% of the 171,000 eligible voters.
Voters will be asked to give a Yes or No to the following question: "Should the electors for the area of Salford elect a Mayor who, with a Cabinet, will be in charge of our local services and lead Salford City Council?"
Currently Salford has a ceremonial Lord Mayor, but like in most council areas the "leader - cabinet" system is used, which means the ruling political party with the majority of councillors usually chose their own cabinet and leader, where the real power lies.
In Salford, John Merry is current leader of the council, chosen by the elected councillors on the ruling Labour group.
Voters for the Yes campaign say the public should elect the mayor, instead of politicians from the ruling party deciding behind closed doors.
Local businessman Geoffrey Berg triggered Salford's referendum by collecting enough signatures in the petition. His Yes campaign is supported by the English Democrat Party.
The local Conservative Party also backs the Yes campaign, in line with the Government's Localism Bill.
But No campaigners say the new system would in fact undermine democracy, by taking power away from local councillors and putting it in the hands of a single elected figurehead.
Elected mayors could be from any political party, or none - independents, and not necessarily from the ruling party.
If the mayor and the majority of councillors do not agree it is claimed this can lead to political indecision and stalemate.
In Salford both the ruling Labour Party, along with the Liberal Democrats, oppose the idea and have campaigned for a No vote.
Only 13 councils in England currently have directly elected mayors. Stoke-on-Trent ditched elected mayors in 2009 after eight years, following a referendum to revert back to the old system. Doncaster will hold a referendum this May on whether to also ditch the elected mayor system currently in place.
If voters choose in favour of an elected mayor, Salford's first-ever mayoral election will then be held on May 3, 2012, the same day as referendums being held in Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield.
Polls close in Salford at 10pm tonight with a result expected after midnight.